TEEN ESSAY: Casa Grande teen doesn't shy from scoliosis surgery
Published: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, June 30, 2013 at 2:41 p.m.
When you have it done in middle school, it really does not seem like much.
You stand with your arms outstretched and do certain stretches while the nurse watches your shoulders and spine. You finish and you probably don’t think of it again. However, Tina Lee, who recently completed her junior year at Casa Grande High School, this simple test revealed that she was part of the 1 percent of people who have scoliosis.
“Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, and doctors don’t know why people get it,” Lee said. “I figured out in fifth grade in one of those physical checks at school. It wasn’t a big deal, so I kind of ignored it.
“In junior high, I got it checked again, and they said it was getting bad. There was 30 degrees of curvature at the top, but we didn’t do anything except regular checkups.”
(Zero degrees of curvature is normal.) Unfortunately for Lee, her condition continued to worsen. At a 50-degree curvature, her doctor recommended surgery, but her parents wanted to try alternatives.
Lee’s friend, Shin Mei Chan, remembers the different methods Lee’s family tried before settling for surgery.
“At first, I didn’t really notice her scoliosis and she didn’t, either, but when she got diagnosed in seventh grade, she let me feel it. Her spine was nearly under her shoulder,” Chan said.
“In the seventh and eighth grade before her surgery, she had to wear this back brace that just looked awfully uncomfortable to be in. There were many loops and Velcro — it just looked like a tremendous hassle.”
During the second semester of Lee’s freshman year, her spine started to degenerate — the curvature was 68 degrees on top and 47 degrees at the bottom when her parents agreed to allow her to have the surgery. Lee was forced to miss six weeks of school for her recovery.
“They cut my back open and I got 22 screws in my spine, with 11 on each side; they stuck a rod through the screws to keep my spine in place,” Lee said.
“I was in the hospital for five days,” Lee added. “I just laid there for two days, but then they made me sit up so that the muscles could regrow. Now it’s 14 degrees on top. I have a scar down the spine that is about 1.5 feet long.”
“I admired her bravery when going into the surgery,” Chan said. “It was around 6 a.m. when she got to the hospital, and she sent me a picture of her in her surgery attire, complete with the hair net, smiling and giving me a thumbs-up.
“When she got out of surgery and she was all drugged up, her mom sent me a picture of her lying in the bed, again with the thumbs-up. It made me tear up. In general, she’s really strong and I admire her, because I know I wouldn’t have been able to take it if it had been me.”
Despite an immense improvement in the curvature of her spine because of the surgery, Lee will not be able to ride horses, do yoga or bungee jump because the screws in her back could come loose. Any further side effects from the surgery are unknown because the procedure is so innovative.
“I really wanted to do all those things,” Lee said. “I used to be angry at the fact that I was the one that had to get scoliosis.”
Despite some setbacks, there are many benefits to the surgery. Lee reported that with a straighter spine, she even grew 2 inches.
“Before the surgery, there was a lot of pain,” she said. “My right shoulder was a lot higher, and it pushed my rib cage in. I felt ugly.
“Now my self-esteem is better. I feel so much better, and I’m not in pain all the time. I feel like I can be myself without being self-conscious. I appreciate the smaller things because I understand how a certain deformity or disability may affect someone’s self-esteem.”
Republished from the Gaucho Gazette student newspaper.
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